DRONELIFE talks to Jon Damush about the place of onboard detect-and-avoid in the complex system of drone safety.
Drone startup Iris Automation offers a cutting edge solution for a foundational problem: how to prevent drones from running into anything. Iris’ onboard detect-and-avoid system, Casia, offers a new layer of safety to automated drone flights. DRONELIFE spoke with drone industry veteran and newly appointed CEO of Iris Automation Jon Damush on what onboard detect-and-avoid systems can – and can’t – do to push the drone industry forward.
Damush came from the Boeing family, where he served as Chief Growth Officer at Boeing subsidiary Insitu, and then the leader of new business ventures at Boeing NeXT. His deep experience in aviation – both manned and unmanned – gives him a unique perspective on how aviation is changing with the growth of the unmanned sector.
When Damush looks at the aviation market, he tries to answer one critical question: Why fly? “Flying is rarely the cheapest or most reliable method,” says Damush.
“Flying is still comparatively hard. Think about the manned aviation industry that we know today: when you look into everything that makes that work, it’s the result of 100 years of constant improvement and innovation.”
“There are some very specific use cases for flying,” Damush explains. “An aerial perspective is a different perspective, and that can be really valuable. You can move people or goods. There are military uses. But none of these are new – people have been spraying crops or taking pictures from the air for a long time.”
The unmanned industry didn’t invent aerial applications: but unmanned systems make those applications more cost effective. “The economic prospect for robotic aircraft is really, really, good,” says Damush. “Ultimately, you want to get to the point that you have one pilot operating many aircraft – then you realize the economies of scale.”
The current aviation framework of safety regulations isn’t designed to accommodate fleets of unmanned aircraft yet, however. “When a Cessna 172 gets certified for flight, it doesn’t have detect and avoid onboard. That’s the pilot’s job,” says Damush. If all of the regulations and air traffic controls in place don’t prevent another aircraft from getting too close, the pilot sees it coming
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